Monday 11 November 2019

Eurovision shows off our new national brand: homosexuality

Ryan O'Shaughnessy's rendition of Together showed we can camp it up with the big boys, writes Donal Lynch

Ryan O’Shaughnessy and dancers Alan McGrath and Kevin O'Dwyer on stage in Lisbon. Picture: Andres Poveda
Ryan O’Shaughnessy and dancers Alan McGrath and Kevin O'Dwyer on stage in Lisbon. Picture: Andres Poveda
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

We've still got it, Europe. That, mainly, was what Eurovision 2018 seemed to prove. Economists talk earnestly about wage increases or housing being the last piece of the recovery puzzle, but those in the know understand that Ireland will never be back where she was until she can power ballad the rest of the continent into submission, as she did in the 1990s.

Regardless of Israel getting the most points last night, Skerries boy Ryan O'Shaughnessy gave us a clear moral win - though technically he finished 16th. A Sam Smith-lite vocal, two male dancers pirouetting as a same-sex couple on a fake Ha'penny Bridge, and the resultant worldwide hoo-ha, all proved that in 2018 Ireland is not just some sad Brexit victim or a tourist theme park.

Campness-wise we can still match the big boys stride for stride. Our light entertainment mojo is back. When it comes to kitsch, we can once again hold our heads up high on the world stage. National pride has been restored. In a sense, too, we could be perversely grateful to the Chinese. They weren't in a position (yet) to offer the precious douze points but they did fulfil an important role that was taken by Israel in 1998 and Vladimir Putin in 2014 - that of appalled granny who didn't get the memo that this is actually the biggest LGBT festival on earth.

Without the fuddy-duddy foil of the Chinese trying to blur the rainbow flags and the dancers out of their broadcast (and subsequently getting banned for doing so), Ireland's Together might have just been a slightly schmaltzy and predictable ballad, lacking, perhaps, the level of tassle-waving spectacle to grab the contest's juries by the cahoonas.

But once the Maoist politburo decided their billions of impressionable viewers might change sexuality based on seeing two Irish guys dancing, our effort was suddenly elevated to protest song par excellence.

O'Shaughnessy's admission that he was "energised" by the controversy called to mind Roxette's pride in announcing that their anodyne anthem Sleeping In My Car had been banned in Japan. ("It was too hot stuff" Per Gessle from the group, told a British interviewer.)

It didn't even matter that Ryan's not gay himself and that the whole thing had the whiff of shamelessly giving the Eurovision audience what they want when they want it.

Gayness and Irishness are now so intertwined that homosexuality is close to jostling drunkenness aside as the national brand.

"Listen, guys, we had a referendum, a gay Taoiseach and a drag queen who is just a few more lip-synchs from appearing on a stamp", the song seemed to say - "The rest of you can mince around in a giant LED ball-gown or field bearded ladies to beat the band, but you still won't out-gay us."

But of course the Eurovision can't be all weighty, geopolitical themes and pissing off homophobic tyrants. To function properly it also needs a heavy dose of those kinds of performances that would have Terry Wogan murmuring put-downs from the afterlife. And this year's contest also delivered those in spades.

Marty Whelan, this generation's Wogan, confessed that in Ireland's wilderness years he needed a Baileys to get him through the competition - and we could relate.

Marty added that he loved the German song and noted that the singer looked like "the love child of Mick Hucknall and Bono".

The Cypriot chanteuse, he noted, "didn't look like she had eaten more than a scallion for about a year", but was "another strong contender", (Eurovision is also home of the backhanded compliment), especially with profound, Dylan-esque lyrics like "You got me pelican, fly, fly, flyin'."

The Danish band looked like they took the wrong turn when they left the set of Vikings and ended up in Lisbon.

Norway tried to emulate our Johnny Logan by fielding a previous winner, but this was mere evidence that there is now and forever only one 'Big in Germany' Johnny. Sweden had the best staging (after Ireland, obviously) - with a singer who looked and sounded sort of like what would happen if Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber shared the same cloning petri-dish.

The Malta entry, meanwhile, felt very much like a hi-NRG remix of Father Ted's My Lovely Horse. It was camper than a row of tents.

And, when all was said and done, the Chinese were nothing if not consistent in their thin-lipped disapproval of everything the contest stands for - despite paying zillions for the TV rights to the show, they also banned the Albanian song from state TV because the singer was covered in (hideous) tattoos.

For once, we couldn't help agreeing with granny.

Sunday Independent

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